Out To Lunch: Belfast Festival kicks off
Annual festival a feast of delights to tickle taste buds of arts aficionados
January's traditionally the month of denial – of dieting and exercise and a list of self-improving resolutions. But it doesn't have to be that way. If you fancy nutritional and cultural sustenance to take the edge off the cold, dark days, you'll be heading Out To Lunch.
It's the ninth outing of the Belfast festival which combines live music, comedy, literature and drama – and while you feast your senses, you can also feed your stomach on a bowl of something hot.
This year, more than 50 acts are jostling for your attention, handily divided into tempting courses – comedy, music, words and ideas, exhibitions and theatre. Highlights including Edna O'Brien, Barry Cryer and Mark Steel. There's music from Ulster-Mexcian Canadian artist Lindi Ortega, The Beatelles, Jacqui Dankworth and Deer Tick, and cameos from Richard Burton, Beyoncé and Neil Young.
Along the way are encounters with ultra-cool former Stranglers frontman Hugh Cornwell, the magnificently absurd John Otway, the wonderful John Hegley and blunt-talking Eamon Dunphy. So that's all bases covered.
And this year, organisers are offering extra portions for particularly hungry culture vultures, with a small add-on programme of acts and exhibitions, including a Secret Cabaret. The venue's a secret. The line-up's a secret. It's a pot luck of performance art. There are just a few tickets for this prized event, so you'd better get your name in the pot as soon as you can.
Festival director Sean Kelly and his team have toiled late into the night to bring the best of entertainment to the Black Box, determined to avoid any post-festive slump from audiences.
"At the time of year when people are generally winding down, we're working flat out to get things ready for Out To Lunch," he said.
"But it's always worth it, and we're thrilled to be able to offer up a January antidote to the post-holiday blues. We think we've cracked it again this year, with some great acts. You can come along and grab a great show and a bite to eat for under a tenner. What other New Year's Resolution do you need?"
The festival kicks off today with a lunchtime performance from Scala Strings. Graduates of the Ulster Youth Orchestra, they'll be offering a programme which includes classical and rock and all points in between.
Tomorrow night Out To Lunch offers a stage-load of laughs courtesy of festival favourite Josie Long, with her new show, The Future Is Another Place. She'll be joined by Paul Currie, and shouty Newtownards comedian, Twitter legend and Chortle-award winner Michael Legge. He also scooped a Sony Award for his podcast Do The Right Thing, and recently supported Dylan Moran, Stewart Lee and Alexei Sayle. He also features in a new series of Comedy Central's Alternative Comedy Experience.
If that doesn't get you out of the house, I don't know what will.
Grania McFadden picks her great eight
Singing Nina: This fabulous new show from the Chicago Jazz Queen (below) features singer Karen Underwood, who tells the life story of Nina Simone. All the classic Nina songs are here – Mississippi Goddamn, Sinnerman, My Baby and I Need a Little Sugar In My Bowl.
Rock and Roll's Greatest Failure: The Otway Movie – it's a movie funded entirely by fans of the cult legend John Otway. And it shows our hero returning to his old school to give a course on survival in the music industry. During the Seventies punk revolution Otway was riding high in the charts. But his next hit didn't come for another quarter-of-a- century. His career is a fascinating lesson in self-promotion.
Jacqui Dankworth: Time to settle down with something mellow and moving. Vocalist Jacqui Dankworth (below right) gives OTL audiences a taste of her acclaimed new album, Live To Love, in this intimate Belfast show.
The Beatelles: Any Beatles fan would be a fool to miss this show. It's the Beatles in mini-skirts! The Beatelles rediscover those legendary Sixties songs in a high energy, passionate reproduction of the songs they've grown up with. So, we'll be having some three-part harmonies and dreamy acoustic takes on some of The Fab Four's most beautiful love songs.
Eamon Dunphy: The man The Guardian called "the most entertaining, blindingly brilliant pundit of all-time" is coming to lunch. Dunphy (far right) will be in Belfast to talk about his memoir, The Rocky Road, and to take us behind the scenes of a passionate life – from childhood poverty in Dublin to the forefront of debate in Ireland.
Burton's Last Call: At last, that informal audience with legendary Richard Burton which I've been dreaming about. Here, his representative on Earth, George Telfer, chats about his famous friends, career and turbulent love life. He even performs Burton's party piece – a Shakespearian speech recited backwards.
Edna O'Brien in Conversation: In 1960 Edna O'Brien's debut novel, The Country Girls, caused such outrage in Ireland that she fled to an England that was positively swinging.
Since then, she has compiled an impressive body of work and in her memoir, Country Girl, she reflects on the meetings with Hollywood legends and pop royalty which were far removed from the repressed life she was born into in Co Clare. She's as hypnotising and provocative as ever she was.
The Correspondents: One of the extra portions on offer from the festival, The Correspondents are Mr Bruce and Chucks, who'll be providing musical entertainment on the Belfast Barge.
It's hard to describe what sort of music they play – Chucks throws a history of dance music from Blues to Jazz, Electro to Dubstep to Drum 'n' Bass, then back again.
Their live shows see Chucks hurling tracks at the audience and Mr Bruce in fully flamboyant costume whipping them into a frenzy with high-speed scatting and incredulous dance moves.